There are three geniuses of the horror/supernatural mystery genre: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Phil Rickman. And among the three, Rickman is perhaps the least known, and that’s a shame, because his works never fail to deliver a mesmerizing, page-turning read. The Magus of Hay, the 12th book in his Merrily Watkins mystery series, doesn’t disappoint.
Rickman’s series of mysteries featuring Merrily Watkins offers insight into the supernatural, religion, ancient earth mysteries and more. Merrily is an unlikely heroine. She is an Anglican vicar, and the diocesan exorcist or “Deliverance Consultant”. The bishop as well as the local police call upon her whenever an incident involving the supernatural occurs. Merrily is a widowed single parent of Jane, a headstrong college-age girl. Her boyfriend, Lol Robinson, is a funky folk musician in the midst of making his recording comeback. If all this already intrigues you, keep going; it only gets better.
Merrily’s mysteries have involved ghosts (including the ghost of Edward Elgar!), ancient standing stones, ley lines, and more. In this book, Rickman returns to his trope of village as metaphor for man. Rickman has a knack for writing about haunted buildings (the Abbey in December) and villages (The Man in the Moss, Curfew). Hay, while not exactly haunted, does have magic coursing through its streets and rivers.
In the Magus of Hay, Merrily is alone after Jane leaves for her gap year adventures and Lol is touring America promoting his new record. She receives a call from series regular DI Frannie Bliss about a mysterious death; a local man has fallen to his death. The death itself isn’t suspicious, but when Bliss and the police investigate his home, they find what looks to their eyes like a paranormal library or a temple to pagan gods. Is there a supernatural element to the death of the 90 year old man? When one of the investigators also goes missing, the mystery heats up.
Added into the mystery is Robin and Betty Thorogood. The duo appeared in an earlier Merrily Watkins mystery when they purchased a rural English farm complete with haunted, ruined church (Rickman’s familiar theme of haunted buildings.) Now they have purchased a bookshop, and the building appears to house mystery within mystery.
Rickman’s is skilled at knitting together several plot strands at once into a seamless whole. Characters from previous novels appear again like old friends, but the good part is that even if you haven’t read his previous novels, you won’t feel lost. Reading his other books adds depth to the story because you will know the back story behind the characters, but unlike some novelists who leave readers feeling lost if they haven’t read every word of the previous books in the series, you can pick up almost anywhere in this series and feel immediately at home.
Rickman also shines at character development, and like all his books, the characters feel real. They act in accordance with how they are portrayed; they feel like flesh and blood people. You can imagine meeting them at the pub for a beer, running into them at the grocery story, or meeting them on line at the bank.
The Magus of Hay explores several themes including inborn evil (are people born or made evil?), Nazism and the rise of neo-Nazis, the forward march of commerce and more. I can’t tell you more or else I’ll give away the plot, but what I can tell you is this: buy or borrow a copy of Rickman’s books. If you love the character-driven supernatural fiction of Dean Koontz, you will love Rickman’s books.
Five stars and I can’t say enough good things about Rickman’s works. Enjoy!